The Silent Majority: DA Survey Results

by Ed Alvarado

In 1947, Winston Churchill delivered a speech in which he declared: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Democracy is all about representing and implementing people’s interests, but in order to analyze how this works on a bigger scale, it might be helpful to analyze a small community such as the Diplomatic Academy (DA). This article took data from a survey of DA students in order find out how the DA community perceives government and social order. Thanks to the limited number of questions, the conclusions that were drawn can be summarized and discussed more in depth than would have been possible with more questions.

 Before presenting the demographics, it will be useful to discuss the results first and then define the people who participated. When asked “In general, how often do I feel like my government’s decisions represent my views?” on a scale from 0-10, the average was 4.67. But the roughly symmetrical distribution makes it hard to draw any solid conclusions. This is not surprising because of the number of nationalities of which the DA student body consists and the governments that may be represented. It is interesting that within Austrians (the largest group), the average rating was 5.44, with answers ranging from 2-10. So perhaps the best way to summarize this response is by saying that a random sample of DA people is likely to be ambivalent in their feelings toward government. Some will highly disagree with government, others will mostly agree, and the majority will fall somewhere in the middle. The media was perceived slightly more negatively, with an average of 4.4 and a right-skewed distribution.

“people (on average) identify slightly more with their social groups and the world than with their nation.”

When asked if their citizenship was an important part of their identity, 71.4% chose to answer with “yes, those are my roots” while the rest chose “No, I identify with other nationalities/peoples that I am not citizen of.” But it is here that another question becomes highly relevant and makes the results more intriguing. Students were also asked to rank the groups that they identity the most with or consider most important for social order. These were the only two questions that mentioned the word “identity.” According to the first question, 71.4% of students consider their national citizenship an important part of their identity. But taking the average rankings for the second question, the groups would be ordered as follows: Social network (2.14), World (2.37), Nation (2.84), City (3.84), Region (4.06), Religion (4.65).

This would mean that people (on average) identify slightly more with their social groups and the world than with their nation. While it is true that some could have focused on the “identity” aspect of the question and others focused on the “social order” aspect, an argument can be made that identifying with a group is what leads to cohesion and social order. The following two paragraphs will elaborate briefly on why this is the case.

 Identifying oneself with a group is the key element in what psychologists would call an “ingroup.” In turn, the “ingroup” is what logically defines the “outgroup,” which in more simple terms is what separates “us” from “them.” For this reason, it is not surprising that 71.4% of people consider their national citizenship(s) an important aspect of who they are. When encountering someone with the same citizenship(s), they can probably identify with the same people, history and culture (among other things), which makes it easier to relate and communicate. Identifying with the “ingroup” can also help us make sense of why “social network” was ranked the highest in the second question, since that is the group which is most synonymous with the definition of an “ingroup.” An individual’s social network is precisely the group of people that the individual socializes with and refers to as “us” (e.g. family and friends), regardless of gender, nationality or any other factor.

For anyone who may have focused on the latter part of the second question (i.e. ranking the groups that they consider most important for social order), the easiest way to show that “identity” and “order” are the same would be by asking: How can social order [at any level] be achieved if people do not identify with the [social] group? Conversely, how much conflict is there within an “ingroup” especially when this is compared to intergroup conflict? Simply put, the group that an individual considers “most important” for social order will likely always be the group that an individual considers her or his “ingroup.” If an individual identifies with a social network, a nation or the world, s/he will seek to minimize conflict between the members in order to establish a sense of social order within the “ingroup.”

The two questions about identity would therefore imply that in general, those who filled out the survey consider their [national] citizenship(s) as important but not as important as their social groups or the world. This would not be a surprising finding in such a diverse community of cosmopolitan individuals, but it would be interesting to see how it compares to the population at large during a time of globalization. It is here, however, that we may finally turn to the demographics of those who participated in the survey.

Screenshot 2016-05-28 12.58.46

The number of respondents was 49, which is roughly 25% of the students at the Diplomatic Academy. This would be cause for alarm and might lead some to plead the “law of small numbers,” also called “making hasty [unrepresentative] generalizations.” But before drawing conclusions about representativeness (or lack thereof), it may be useful to compare this with the results of last year’s survey, which included 76/211 students (36%). Despite the fact that last year’s survey was not open to alumni, but this year’s survey was, the participation by program was roughly the same. In 2015, 63.2% of respondents were MAIS, 26.3% were ETIA and 10.5% were DLG. This year, 65.3% were MAIS, 26.5% were ETIA and 8.2% were DLG. The response rate by gender was 64.5% women in 2015 and 59.2% women in 2016. These numbers are roughly equal, but the level of representativeness would depend on the difference between MAIS-ETIA-DLG and female-male ratios between the two years. If there are roughly the same number of people in each program, and there was an increase in the proportion of men-women from 2015 to 2016, then they are equally representative. Unfortunately the demographics for the 2016 academic year were not received in time to include within this article. But this still leaves the question of how representative it is to use 25-35% of DA students in order to draw conclusions about the community as a whole.

Many would contend that the opinion of ¼ and ⅓ of students cannot be representative of the whole because the large majority of people are not being included. The argument is that if anywhere between ⅔ to ¾ of people did not to participate, then the opinions of those who participated should not be attributed to them. This would lead to unrepresentative samples and bad generalizations because some people simply forgot to respond and others actively chose not to participate. The underlying logic is that the opinions of those who are not represented may drastically alter the results. In response to this, it is worth pointing out that the winner of the United States presidential elections has not gained more than 31.31% of the electorate or 23.09% of the total population in any of the elections that have been held since 1980.

Furthermore, in the most recent Austrian presidential election, far-right candidate, Norbert Hofer, was 0.4% away from winning (the difference was 49.7% to 50.3%), even though he only received 25.61% percent of the total 8,682,057 votes. The winner, Alexander Van der Bellen, received 25.97% of the votes while 25.49% were ineligible to vote and 20.03% did not vote for one reason or another. This means that 45.52% of people may not have been properly represented even though this group is much larger than each of the other two. In other words, there seems to always be a silent majority. This majority is present whether the votes are cast in the United States, Austria or at the Diplomatic Academy (where voter turnout for DASI elections was 51.9% in 2015, but the majority of voters left after the year ended and would be unaffected by the decision). Therefore, the most logical conclusions are that either the silent majority is properly represented by the minority at all levels, or the very concept of equal representation seems incompatible with democracy.

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